Oregon investigating private pop-up COVID-19 testing sites
UPDATE: Center for COVID Control announced via its website Jan. 13 that all test sites would temporarily close, amid complaints about several locations.
A COVID-19 testing company with three sites in the Portland area is under investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice and Better Business Bureaus in other states.
Center for COVID Control, based in Illinois, is a company offering pop-up COVID-19 testing sites in hundreds of locations throughout the U.S. The company offers testing at two sites in Portland and one in Tigard.
The Oregon Department of Justice received two complaints against the testing company and the state confirmed an investigation into the company's practices and protocols.
"We have an open civil investigation for UTPA (unfair trade practices act) violations, but we are not able to provide additional information at this time on the investigation," said Kristina Edmunson, communications director with the Department of Justice.
Complaints against the company surfaced in other states after reports of people never receiving test results, or receiving test results while still waiting in line to be tested. Others have complained they believed they received falsified results.
In Oregon, a woman filed a state complaint in October, after she said she got tested at a Center for COVID Control site in Southeast Portland in September and never received her results.
"They did not ask for my credit card or SSN, but did require me to upload a picture of my driver's license and provide insurance information, so while I was not charged for this test I assume my insurance company has or will be," Kelly Fisher stated in a complaint filed Oct. 4. "I emailed Saturday afternoon after I didn't receive results, and have received responses indicating they have new equipment that isn't working properly and they have a huge back log nationwide and they don't know when I can expect my results. In the meantime, they are continuing to advertise online that results are available in 48-72 hours, when they clearly know that's not true."
In another complaint, a patient who visited the site the same day as Fisher said results were emailed before the employees at the testing spot had processed the test kit.
"After swabbing myself and turning in the PCR test baggy, I saw that the Rapid tests expired in June of 2021, three months prior to my testing date," Melodie Bruhn said in a complaint. "The haphazard workers there did not collect the used items after self-swabbing, so I still have the packaging and expired rapid test stick. "This group just dropped the PCR test ziplocks into a cheap blue plastic bin on the ground. They also didn't treat the used quick test items like medical waste. The younger worker who seemed clueless was told to write down on a blank sheet of paper what each (person's) name is, what their rapid test result was, and to tell us that we would hear from them via email.
"The same blue bin was there for hours, yet my PCR lab test results were back to me via email in just a couple of hours. It seemed impossible to me that they could have a lab process it so quickly."
Bruhn went back to the site to see if the blue bin still sitting on the ground was the same one containing her test kit.
"I went back and asked them to look in the bin and tell me if my ring had fallen in with my PCR test baggy. They said they did not find a ring in the bin. I asked if this was the same blue PCR collection bin, or a new one that replaced the others when they were picked up. The young man said it was the same bin, and he was sorry that no ring was found in there," Bruhn noted in the complaint. "How could they have both kept the same bin full of PCR samples there and sent the samples to a lab and had results of PCR testing to me in less than 3 hours?"
Another woman in Oregon City told Pamplin Media Group she and her family used the testing site in Tigard and never received results.
Two days after the DOJ investigation was announced, the company's website indicated all locations would be temporarily closed to focus on "additional staff training in sample collection and handling" and to ensure compliance with all state regulations.
Center for COVID Control advertises free PCR tests and rapid antigen tests.
On Tuesday, Jan. 11, people were turned away from the company's pop-up tent in a Southeast Portland parking lot, after staff said they ran out of testing supplies less than two hours after opening.
Staff at the site said they had only been offering rapid tests because of a shortage of PCR tests.
The Oregon Health Authority confirmed it has yet to receive any recorded test results from the chain of testing centers.
"OHA has not received test results from a laboratory called the 'Center for COVID Control,'" Rudy Owens with OHA said late Wednesday. Owens said the state health agency has elevated the issue to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
"All testing sites must have a (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) CLIA certificate, have notified Oregon CLIA that they are functioning as a testing site in Oregon, and are required to report to the Oregon Health Authority or local public health authorities," Owens added. "In some cases, a testing entity may just need assistance with its reporting obligations, and they come into compliance pretty quickly."
On Wednesday, the Oregon Attorney General's office issued a consumer warning
"The huge demand for Covid-19 testing of all kinds—at home tests, rapid antigen tests, PCR testsâ€“brings bad actors and some businesses trying to make a quick buck out from the shadows," Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said. "We see it all the time in moments of desperation like this testing urgency."
An employee at the Southeast testing site disputed reports of falsified results or missing results, but couldn't confirm which laboratory the company uses to process test results, or whether the results are recorded with the state.
Rapid tests are administered via a self-swab kit, where most patients conduct the test on themselves while waiting in a vehicle. They then bring a plastic bag with an information card to employees. Employees later record the results and share them with each patient via email.
"Basically, you do your test and drop it off in that bin over there, then we take all the tests into the back room over there and we'll match up your cards and your tests and I send you an email," the employee said.
Center for COVID Control's press team did not respond to questions or a request for comment.
A primary customer contact number prompts patients to call their local testing location with issues, but each of the company's testing locations lists a different contact number, with most being private cell phone numbers.
At one of its testing centers in Portland's Hollywood neighborhood, a line of more than 30 people wrapped around the block Tuesday, Jan. 11.
One person in line was getting tested after being exposed to an infected coworker and reported using that testing site before successfully, without issues.
Complaints similar to the ones filed in Oregon have cropped up in Illinois, Florida, Wisconsin and North Dakota, USA Today reported. USA Today first reported on the complaints to the Oregon Department of Justice last week. Willamette Week confirmed the state investigation Tuesday.
The investigation comes as Oregon and the rest of the country faces record-level coronavirus infections due to the omicron variant, combined with a shortage of over-the-counter rapid test kits.
This story has been updated since it was first published.
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